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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

10 Mistakes Conservatives Make In Art And Entertainment...

Found on Ethos
"Are we to be destroyed by ideas, mischievous, wrongheaded, debilitating, yet seductive because they are fashionable and promise so much on the cheap?” – Sir Keith Joseph
BeautyConservatives, by definition but not always by practice, are curators of the good, the true, and the beautiful. In the popular arts, however, we have become champions of the tame, the trite, and the temporal. (See “safe for the whole family” radio stations, movie reviews that count body parts and swear words, and paintings of nostalgic sugarplum cottages.) Wrong-headed in our approach, seduced by fashionable (and profitable) trends, debilitated by our passion for the cheap and comfortable, our “vision” for popular art and entertainment – if one can call protests and boycotts a vision – is doing more harm than good in the culture.
The remedy is easier than one might think. It begins by identifying and admitting our errors. Here are ten to start us off, no doubt there are dozens more:
Mistake #1: We try to improve art and entertainment from the top-down and the outside-in. For example, when well-meaning people, flush with cash but bankrupt on talent, attempt to “show Hollywood” by creating films that go around proven creative methods, the result is always the same: direct to video, a waste of time and money. Enduring change, meanwhile, comes from the bottom-up (working your way up from the mailroom) and the inside-out (working within the creative industries).
Mistake #2: We don't quite understand common grace – the idea that the good, the true, and the beautiful can be found in the most “unlikely” of places (Broadway) and people (liberal artists). Without a strong belief in common grace, we will either get angry at the culture or withdraw from it entirely.
Mistake #3: We discourage our children from pursuing careers in the creative spheres. Fashion designer or film editor, stage actor or singer-songwriter, these are not safe or stable careers. Then again, these days neither is business, politics, medicine, or any other traditional career. Be bold: fan your teenager’s creativity.
Mistake #4: We don't give money to artists. Focus on the Family? Fine. A high-profile U.S. Senate race? Of course. Helping a singer-songwriter finish her album? A filmmaker complete post-production? A magazine get off the ground? Forget about it. A lot of great art – the kind that offers the culture recreation and re-creation – remains underground, stuck in studios, floundering in film editing rooms, gathering dust in garages because the artist has no money to finish the work or get it noticed. Millions of dollars go to bloated organizations that do little more than send out chest-thumping and finger-pointing press releases condemning popular culture. Instead, fund the redemptive artist and we will change the world.
Mistake #5: We champion prescriptive art. In other words, conservatives prefer art that shows the world as it should be, not as it really is. Curing rather than diagnosing. Descriptive art, on the other hand, tells the truth about the human condition, while offering the audience glimpses into a “world that should have been otherwise.”
Mistake #6: We do not support established cultural institutions like we should. From fundraisers at art galleries to opening nights at community theaters, conservatives are hard to find at mainstream cultural happenings. As a result, we have no impact on the shows produced, the art exhibited, or the people who run these culture-shaping institutions.
Mistake #7: We use the arts to save souls and sway elections. True artists enter their work with a sense of mystery, wonderment, always uncertain what may finally appear on the canvas or film or pages. Children’s author Madeleine L’Engle speaks of her surprise when a certain character appeared unexpectedly in the plot of the novel she was writing. She says, “I cannot imagine the book without [the character], and I know that it is a much better book because of him. But where he came from I cannot say. He was a sheer gift of grace.” A sermon can be artful, and Lord knows campaign ads could use some imagination. Mixing art and agenda, however, is propaganda, whether it comes from the left or the right. If you want to send a message, Samuel Goldwyn rightly said, call Western Union.
Mistake #8: We do not see good movies when it really matters. Opening weekend is our only chance to "vote" on a film. Going two weeks later, getting it from Netflix, or buying a DVD version does not count; the first weekend is election day. A big turnout will not go unnoticed in Hollywood. Remember, this is show business.
Mistake #9: We protest and boycott bad art and entertainment. Type the words "conservative" and "protest" into Google's search engine and more than fifteen million hits appear. Writing angry letters, filing FCC complaints, and boycotting advertisers are rarely, if ever, effective. Here’s the answer: ignore the bad, praise the good. When you see something you like, write a thank you letter to the author, television network, record label, or magazine editor.
Mistake #10: We like safe art. Soggy may be a better term. Easy to digest. Nothing that causes heartburn. Do we really want art that never challenges our convictions, wrestles with our beliefs, or questions our faith? Let’s not forget: beauty is hardly safe, truth is never tame, goodness is anything but trite. Author Franky Schaeffer said it best : “The arts ask hard questions. Art incinerates polyester/velvet dreams of inner healing and cheap grace. Art hurts, slaps, and defines. Art is interested in truth: in bad words spoken by bad people, in good words spoken by good people, in sin and goodness, in life, sex, birth, color, texture, death, love, hate, nature, man, religion, music, God, fire, water, and air. Art tears down, builds up, and redefines. Art is uncomfortable” Finally, and most profoundly, he writes: “Good art (which, among other things, means truth-telling art) is good in itself, even when it is about bad things.”
Mistakes are bound to happen, but we don’t have to be bound by our mistakes. Let’s admit that we have let the culture down and then let’s move on. A new vision for art and entertainment is needed. I have my own ideas. What are yours?
Erik Lokkesmoe is an author, speechwriter, and the founder of Brewing Culture, an arts and media non-profit.
(HT: This Guy Falls Down)

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